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Varadkar highlights remarks by Ryanair boss as he warns against calls to unlock restrictions

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Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary (Jonathan Brady/PA)

PA

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary (Jonathan Brady/PA)

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has highlighted comments by Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary as he warned against calls to unlock coronavirus restrictions before it's safe to do so.

Mr Varadkar urged the public to "hold firm" on the current coronavirus restrictions until they're due to be assessed in the first week of June.

Mr O'Leary told RTÉ this morning that the 14-day quarantine regulation for passengers coming to Ireland has "no basis in health measures and no basis in science".

He also said people can fly "in perfect safety" and this was "fully supported" by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Safety Agency.

Mr Varadkar raised his remarks in the Dáil this afternoon without naming the airline boss directly when he raised concern about the public engaging in anticipatory behaviour before restrictions ease.

He said a form of this is people "looking for us to unlock things in some cases perhaps before we’re sure it’s safe to do so."

"I heard a call from a prominent person this morning saying that flying was entirely safe for example."

He said: "I think we have to continue to base our decisions evidence."

It came after Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy asked Mr Varadkar if political consensus can be reached on the two-metre social distancing rule.

There have been calls for this to be reduced to one metre to help businesses, schools and health services to reopen.

Ms Murphy said: "The public were ahead at the very beginning" of the crisis in terms of the need for schools to close and to stop visitors from Italy travelling to Ireland.

But she warned: "There is a darkening of the mood. If you’re going to bring people together, bring people along you have to be in symmetry with them.

"I feel we’re out of step with the public mood."

She added: "The confusion in relation to the expert advice is a real problem."

Mr Varadkar said he isn't sure a political consensus can be reached on the two-metre rule. He suggested the Dáil committee on Covid-19 could consider the matter and it could make recommendations to government.

He said: "In the meantime we’ll follow the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team."

Mr Varadkar said the overall context is the prevalence of the virus in the community.

He said: "a set of rules that were right when there were hundreds of new cases being reported every day and dozens of deaths… may not be the right rules at a time when we have 30 or 50 new cases every day and less than ten deaths being reported."

Mr Varadkar said there's "no such thing as zero risk from this virus" but "as the risk is less then rules can be relaxed and that’s what the plan is all about".

He said the government's roadmap for reopening is a "living document".

"As things develop elements of that plan could be accelerated, could be brought forward but I really would ask the public and ask the House to hold firm for now.

"We’re only in phase one and one of the reasons it’s a three-week phase is so that we can have proper data."

He said the effect of the easing of restrictions in phase one won't be known until the first week in June.

If the numbers are going in the right direction that "can give us an assurance that we could accelerate some of things in the plan."

"But before doing that I think we’d be acting without evidence and that would be premature.

"So I would just ask people to hold firm until that first week in June and if the numbers still going in the right direction then we can have some confidence about bringing forward some of the things from the later phases to earlier on."

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One's Today with Sarah McInerney this morning, Dr Gabriel Scally, President of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, said that Mr O'Leary should not be a source of public health advice.

“I really don't think Michael O'Leary is a good source of public health advice and the effectiveness or not or quarantine, I think he might have a vested interest," he said.

“The last thing you want to do is start an import line of bringing in new cases from elsewhere.

“I'm quite sure that the Irish people wanting to come, and quite rightly, wanting to come home to Ireland, the restrictions that are proposed on their movement, the self quarantine, is absolutely vital," he said.

He refuted Mr O Leary’s claims that quarantine has no basis in science.

“I think that quarantine measures are absolutely spot on.

"I don't think we can be too careful about this, the work that has been done in Ireland in getting the numbers down has been fantastic, and it would be a shame to squander all of that fantastic effort by the population by letting a new flow of cases come into the country. After all that's how the virus got here in the first place," he said.

He went on to add that quarantine should be "mandatory" and "rigorously enforced" for those who travel into the country.

"We do need that 14 day period of quarantine and we need it to be really rigorously enforced.

"In my view its a mass gathering, you cant have a couple of hundred people in a metal tube for several hours without there being a risk of transmission of the virus if there has been someone infected on board," Dr Scally added.

Earlier, speaking on RTÉ Radio, Sinn Fein's Louise O'Reilly and public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally also raised concerns over Mr O'Leary's comments

A Ryanair spokesperson this evening responded.

A statement said that if Mr Varadkar, Sinn Féin or Mr Scally are looking for "expert evidence that it is safe to return to flying" in the EU "All they need do is read the guidelines published on May 20 by EASA and the ECDC which recommend face masks and other measures to assure the safety of air travel".

The statement added that the guideline "make no mention of ineffective quarantines as mistakenly introduced by the Irish government last weekend while the rest of Europe was abolishing quarantine."

Ryanair said it is returning to flying from July 1 with more than 1,000 daily flights from Ireland to European destinations all over Europe "following the air safety measures recommended by EASA and the ECDC".

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